ANNISTON ARMY DEPOT, Ala. -- Ladder safety at Anniston Army Depot is the responsibility of every employee who comes into contact with them -- from the supervisor or designated safety monitor, who performs a formal, documented annual inspection, to the worker who inspects the ladder for functionality and evidence of damage before each use.

Falls are a leading cause of injury and death at home and in the workplace. Nearly half of those deadly falls have been from ladders.

In a recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it was determined that 43 percent of fatal falls over the last decade involved a ladder.

According to the study:

• Across all industries, the highest fatal and non-fatal ladder related injuries were in construction and mining related occupations, followed by installation, maintenance and repair occupations.

• Head injuries were implicated in about half of the fatal injuries.

• Companies with the fewest employees had the highest fatality rates.

• Fatality rates were substantially higher for self-employed workers than salary/wage workers.

Another study by the Consumer Product Safety Commission showed some startling statistics concerning the frequency and severity of ladder-related accidents in the United States.

• More than 90,000 people receive emergency room treatment from ladder-related injuries every year.

• Elevated falls account for almost 700 occupational deaths annually.

• According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 50 percent of all ladder-related accidents were due to individuals carrying items as they climbed.

• The Occupational Safety and Health Administration believes 100 percent of all ladder accidents could be prevented if proper attention to equipment and climber training were provided.

Some important takeaways from these studies are that larger companies with more employees and a higher level of training have lower instances of ladder-related injuries.

Also, OSHA believes that, with proper training and equipment selection, 100 percent of ladder-related accidents can be prevented.

Here are some tips to remember before you climb that ladder:

Before work is started:
• Think about the task at hand, the tools and material to be used, the height at which you will be working and surface on which the ladder is sitting.
• Consider the rated weight capacity for the ladder. Each ladder is designed to support a maximum weight limit and if that limit is exceeded, the ladder could fail, causing a fall related incident.
• Ensure the ladder is tall enough for the job. Many incidents occur from either standing on the top rung of the ladder and losing balance or from placing the feet of the ladder on an object to raise it higher, again causing a loss of balance.

After the inspection:
• Ladders with damaged or missing parts should be immediately removed from service. Damaged ladders can easily fail, causing injury. This is why, in addition to an annual inspection, employees should perform a thorough visual inspection of the ladder before each use.
• Tag unsafe ladders with an "Out of Service" tag that is highly visible to anyone who would use it and remove it from the immediate area. Replace the ladder as soon as possible.

When setting up:
• Pay attention to where you set up the ladder and the surface on which it is set.
• Never place a ladder in front of a door or doorway that is not locked or guarded in some way.
• Ensure the ground on which the ladder will be placed is level and firm.
• A good practice is to have a helper hold the base of the ladder.

During use:
• Never use or alter a ladder in any way other than what it is intended for.
• Always maintain three points of contact with the ladder to ensure stability.
• Never carry tools or items up the ladder, preventing you from using both hands.
• Never attempt to reach or work at a distance from the ladder. A good rule of thumb to follow when working from a ladder is to never reach or stretch to an extent where your belt buckle moves beyond the ladder rail.

Remember, working from height, whether from a ladder, scaffold or any type of man lift, is inherently dangerous.

Be sure you identify all the risks associated with this type of work and, when a ladder is necessary, be sure it is the correct type and length needed for the job. Just as important -- be sure it is serviceable.

For details on depot policies, procedures and responsibilities concerning ladders, review ANAD Regulation 385-9, "Ladder Safety Program," which can be found on the ANAD Intranet.